When preparing to buy a Djembe, it's important to determine the type of sound you're looking for before you start shopping. After reading the info in this Djembe Buying Guide, you'll be able to make a clear and confident decision about which drum is perfect for you.
Section 1: A Brief Introduction to Djembes
The djembe originated in West Africa, where it was used in ceremonial dances and sometimes even as a means of communicating over long distances. All djembe drums are the same basic shape, and resemble huge goblets, with a relatively slim base widening out to a large drumhead. A typical djembe drum is around 24 inches in height with a drumhead diameter of around 12 to 14 inches across, but these sizes do vary considerably. The drumhead is traditionally tightened with a system of ropes, although modern drums occasionally employ key tuning.
The shape and size of the drum is important; the distinctive "goblet" form makes a djembe drum into a large resonating chamber and gives the drum its distinctive deep bass note. Too small and the bass will be too high-pitched, too large and it will be impossible to hear. The sound quality is also affected by the interior of the drum. Traditional djembe drums are not totally smooth on the inside, but have special patterning or indentations carved into the interior, which enhances the tonal quality of the drum.
Materials used to construct a djembe drum
Djembe drums are traditionally carved from a single piece of solid African hardwood. African mahogany, iroko, and lenge wood are all excellent materials to use in this regard; Siam oak is a common substitute for drums made outside Africa. The hardness of the wood is important; it allows the shell of the djembe drum to be quite thin, which in turn improves the resonance and sound quality of the drum. Djembe drums made from softer woods are generally inferior.
In addition, modern djembe drums can be made of synthetic materials such as Acousticon, which replicate the strength and timbre of a traditional hardwood djembe drum surprisingly well. The drumskin on a djembe is commonly made of goatskin, though other animal skins are also used; African goatskin is said to provide a distinctive sound. Nowadays, djembe drumheads can also be made from synthetic materials, and these are excellent substitutes.